Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Tenor of Truth

Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. Psa 96:1-9

The tenor of something, according to Webster's Dictionary, connotes its habitual condition or essential meaning, and also stresses its "clearly perceptible direction on a continuous, undeviating course." It is in the tenor of God's Word, then, that we can we can trace His narrative flow and begin to grasp the essence of who He has revealed Himself to be. In other words, it's in God's tenor that we can actually start to "catch His drift." And when we learn the tenor of His voice, we can start to sing along, joining in Heaven's chorus, and echoing His truth—for He puts a new song in our mouth (Psa 40:3).

In order to discern God's tenor, we need to become intimately familiar with how it sounds. For isn't it true that most mothers can pick out the sound of their own child's cries from a crowded room of infants? This is because they know and love them intimately. In the same way, God's voice will be more easily distinguishable from that of the counterfeit when we know the Bible well and grow to love it.

If we know God's Word well, we will not be led astray when Scripture is twisted, cherry-picked, or misapplied. We will not be thrown off course by extra-biblical themes that distract from the thrust of the gospel message. We not be deceived when [often very popular] pastors use Scripture to back up their sermons of spiritual spin. We will not mistake eisegesis for sound, honest exegeses. For we can rest assured that His Word will be a lamp to our feet, illuminating the truth. (John 15:7; Psa 119:105). The premise that the study of God’s Word is paramount to understanding and loving Him more cannot be emphasized enough.

An oft-quoted, but useful illustration of this is the counterfeit money analogy: Bankers are taught to recognize counterfeit money by studying real bills. In the same way, learning the tenor of God's voice by studying His Word is vital—not to mention that sincere believers will have an inherently deep desire to know God better (Psa 25:4). God’s Word should be our “delight” (Psa 119:16, 24).

To help discern the tenor of truth, it's important first and foremost to remember, quite simply, that truth is Jesus (John 14:6). Remember also that just as Jesus is the truth, He is the Word (John 1:1,14). The tenor of God's truth, therefore, is always both Christ-centered and Bible-based. The Old Testament pre-echoes, and bares witness, to the gospel of Christ. The New Testament testifies to, and echoes, that same gospel message throughout. Simply put, the Bible is always all about Jesus.

Do not be led astray by what is becoming an overwhelmingly popular form of false teaching in the seeker-friendly movement that some have accurately termed, "narcissistic eisegesis." It is a self-centered approach to Scripture which involves superimposing oneself into the meaning of a Bible verse or passage regardless of its context. Often, the focus of narcissistic eisegesis is primarily on our success, our dream, our purpose, or our adventure. This, however, warps the Bible into a self-help guide in which Jesus shows up as some type of cheer-leader, facilitator, or navigator. But remember, the Bible centers on Jesus, not on the self. "For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things" (Rom 11:36). We may have the privilege to serve Him in exciting ways, yes! But the adventure that this may involve should not be our focus; the end-goal of God's glory is all that ultimately matters, if we are truly slaves of Christ.

With this in mind, we can identify several qualities that resonate in the tenor of God's truth:

The tenor of truth resounds with infallibility
This concept of truth in the tenor of God's Word is rooted in Scripture. God told Moses, "Write these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." (Ex 34:27 NKJ). The word translated tenor, here, is the Hebrew, peh, which is used throughout the Old Testament to mean tenor, speech, mouth, command, or mind (Num 3;16, Eze 33;7; Lev 24:12). God's words in this verse are covenantally binding, exemplifying the tenor of His Word to be infallible—or as Jesus puts it, "trustworthy and true." (Rev 21:5).

The tenor of truth resounds with omnipotence
By His Word, God introduced the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15:1) and gave Israel the Ten Commandments (Ex 24:3–4; Deut 5:5; Ex 34:28; Deut 9:10). By His Word, all creation came into being (Gen 1; Psa 33:6). The commanding tenor, or sovereign power, of God's Word is also illustrated in the book of Micah: "but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth [peh] of the Lord of hosts has spoken." (Mic 4:4). And if we live by His Word, we likewise live by His power. As Jesus put it, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7).

The tenor of truth is unwavering
It is in the unwavering tenor of God's Word, therefore, that His divine and unchanging nature is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit. The most powerful way to get to know God, therefore, is not through our experience of Him (which is subjective), but through studying what God has said about Himself in the Bible. Experience-based faith, as opposed to biblically-based faith, doesn't lead to an intimate and enduring knowledge of Him. As our circumstances change, an experience-based faith may falter. But if our faith is based on God's Word, we will rest in the assurance that His love never changes, regardless of what we are going through.

The tenor of truth is uncompromising
There is currently, however, an increasing emphasis on experiential faith in mainstream evangelical Christianity in form of a growing tendency to base our relationship with God more heavily on our emotional response to Him rather than on our biblical knowledge of Him. These days, many believers are placing more stock in heart-feelings as a means to discerning God's will for their lives without also going to the Bible for direction. And increasingly Christians are turning to mystical or self-help books that contain spiritual fluff rather than solid biblical content. Often, these books call themselves "Christian," but they distract from the gospel message, quote Bible verses rarely, selectively, or out of context, and indulge the reader in an almost cartoonish portrayal of who God is. Jesus—if He is mentioned at all—is often presented as some type of Santa-esque caricature that bears little or no resemblance to the true Son of God as revealed in Scripture. "Jesus" takes on many different personas in these contexts. In fact, he conveniently morphs into whoever you want him to be.

...In contrast, the great "I Am," however, does not compromise on who He is. He just is.

The tenor of truth resounds with omnipresence
God's Word preaches His ever-present nature; Psalm 139 is a beautiful illustration of this. We cannot conjure up more of God's presence with us regardless of how we might behave or feel. Worship experiences or prayer sessions, for example, can encourage our intimacy with God, but they cannot make His presence with us stronger. For, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Cor 3:16). Watch out for teachers who claim we can cultivate God's presence through worship events. They are shifting the focus to the self by making such a claim. We cannot invite the Holy Spirit to "come" to us, if He is already in us! While we are certainly exhorted to draw near to God (as He will to us), this isn't so much about increasing His presence as it is about increasing intimacy. And, to know God intimately is primarily to know His Word; It is in His Word, for instance, that we learn we cannot flee from His presence (Psa 139:7-10)! Like worship, prayer is an essential outworking of our faith—but neither of these form the foundation of our faith. We draw near to God through faith in Christ who alone gives us access to Him (Heb 4:14–16, 7:25, Phil 3:9). And our "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17).

The tenor of truth is humbling
While knowing God should not be primarily experiential, nor should it be exclusively theological either, however. Bible knowledge and sound theology are far better than gold when they fuel our trust in, and intimacy with, God (Psa 19:10). But when our exegesis becomes a self-motivated means to bolstering our theological presuppositions, this only fuels our pride (1 Cor 8:1). In the same way, if our self-focused accumulation of holy experiences become the basis of our relationship with God, our ego is fed, but our faith ultimately withers. In other words, theology—just like experience—plays a role in knowing God. But intimacy comes from a humble desire to learn the tenor of His voice. It's not about hearing what we want to hear, but listening to what God has already said.

The tenor of truth is life-giving and sanctifying
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. All three are inseparable aspects of Jesus' saving power. God changes the believer's life through His Word; just as Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth.” (in John 17:17 ). God transforms the believer's heart through His Word. "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Heb 4:12). And He renews the believer's mind though His Word, which reveals His will (Rom 12:2).

The tenor of truth is both convicting and redemptive
The tenor of God's Word is not only reassuring, it can also be unsettling at times. Because the tenor of truth reverberates with the gospel message, it does not diminish the seriousness of sin, for this would be to downplay the power of the Cross. When the tenor of truth convicts our hearts and the double-edged sword pierces our soul, it can be uncomfortable, even painful at times. But the truth is, "the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," are inextricably intertwined (Eph 6:17). The tenor of truth brings not only conviction, but also redemption and sanctification. It is then that we truly understand that to live is Christ, and to die is gain. It is then that we truly experience His great love.

The tenor of truth is an harmonic unison
Discerning the tenor of God's Word, involves a comprehensive reading of Scripture. Each verse works together in perfect harmony. Claims of contradictions and inconsistencies can be thoroughly refuted with careful apologetics. 
An important rule of biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture. And while it's tempting to cherry-pick Bible verses to suit ourselves, God's Word needs to be understood in its entirety. Only then can the harmonic unison of the redemptive story which resonates through all parts of the Bible, truly be heard.

The tenor of truth is love
All of the accents and tones that make up the tenor of God's truth resound above all with His great love. For just as He is truth (John 14:6), He is love (1 John 4:8). The two exist in perfect harmony within the very nature of who God is and His Word echoes this throughout.

The tenor of truth is pure
On that note, the tenor of truth is purely good, purely just, and purely holy. It cannot be mixed with lies, or it is no longer truth. In contrast, he who masquerades as an angle of light masterfully mixes truth with lies. Sometimes his tenor even sounds Christian. The enemy loves to spout off about love, peace, truth, and spiritual fulfillment. He might talk about "god." But if we listen discerningly—especially when his deadly tenor resonates through the mega-popular spiritual and self-help icons of contemporary culture—we might realize that what he means by love, peace, truth, and god, is very different from the biblical definitions of those things. "Love" is a mere emotion. "Peace" is mental detachment. "Truth" is relative. And "god" is the inner light within ourselves. The enemy claims that we create our own truth, that we shape our own destinies, and ultimately that we can save ourselves. He can use "Christian" terminology, while at the same time convincing us that we have no need for a Savior.

The tenor of truth is always about Jesus
When we understand that the tenor of God's Word always points us to the risen Christ, we will not be led astray. Watch out for Bible studies or sermons that thematically emphasize a particular verse of the Bible more than the Bible itself does (the Word of Faith movement does this and hence preaches a different gospel). God's Word consistently expresses a narrative flow (an undeviating course!) in which the redemptive story unfolds to lead us to Jesus. In fact, every passage of Scripture either echoes or proclaims the gospel. For as Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me." (John 5:39). Just as the tenor of truth always leads to Jesus, it also starts with Jesus. John opens his gospel with these words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning." (John 1:1). Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

God's tenor resounds with His glory
Essentially, the desire for, "more of Him, less of me," encapsulates the gospel; it expresses the truth that while I have a problem (a sinful heart), it is He who has the solution (Christ). And the beauty of this is that reading Scripture with a heart that yearns for God, and a mind that is yielded to His will, is how we come to know the tenor of His voice. He starts to replace our thoughts with His and our ways with His. He starts to renew our minds, transform our hearts, and replace our fallen nature with His righteousness.

Do you find you're often placing your spiritual focus on your own works, gifts, politics, circumstances, strengths, and weaknesses? As Alistair Begg often puts it: "Does your faith start with an I or a He?" Because if your spiritual conversations and your prayers constantly include sentences that start with "I" then you might be idolizing yourself instead of worshiping God. Remember that the tenor of God's Word consistently emphasizes His glory not our own. The truth of this rings clearly and unwaveringly throughout Scripture (Ja 4:10; Phil 2:7; Luke 14:9-11; Rom 12:3; 1 Cor 1:28; 2 Chron 7:14; 2 Kings 22:19; Psa 24:9...and on).

John the Baptist knew that in order to serve God fruitfully, "He must become greater, I must become less." (John 3:30). Consistently, John's entire ministry, as well as his personal faith, pointed away from himself and toward Christ. And ours should, too. Because when we get too focused on our own theology, our own circumstances, our own dreams, spiritual gifts and purpose, and less on Christ, we start to deafen ourselves to God's voice by filling our ears with our own self-generated monologue.

In light of this, every Christian should ask themselves, whose song am I really singing? Does my life resonate with the tenor of truth? Or am I humming along to my own tune? Can I echo the words of the psalmist, "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." (Psa 40:3)? Or have I elevated myself to the level of songwriter?

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